E-Billing Saves More Than Trees

Millions of consumers have switched to electronic bill payment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save paper and money. Each person can save up to $100 a year by paying online, and the rewards are even better for a company that switches to e-billing.

Billtrust, which helps businesses switch to e-billing, reports that doing so can slash a company's billing costs by 25% to 35% by reducing the need for materials, postage and labor. And of course, switching to paperless billing is a great way to increase your company's commitment to the environment.

Paper billing has a hefty impact on the environment. In 2006, the U.S. Postal Service delivered 19 billion paper bills to American households. That requires paper, about 533 million pounds of it, as well as lots of wood and water to make the paper in the first place. Delivering the bills requires transportation, which uses fossil fuels and emits greenhouse gases. And when customers pay bills by sending paper checks through the mail, they almost double the environmental impact of billing.

According to the Pay It Green Alliance, converting 10,000 paper bills and checks to electronic transmittal would save 3,729 pounds of paper, eliminate 148,398 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions and prevent 35,566 gallons of wastewater from polluting our water bodies.

Switching from paper billing to electronic billing can also save your company a lot of dough. In 2004, Office Depot saved close to $1 million by using paperless billing. To find out how e-billing could increase your company's bottom line, try the Benefit Analysis Tool from Avolent.

What's more, e-billing is actually more secure than paper billing, and that is something your customers may find reassuring. NACHA, the Electronic Payments Association, reports that 85% of identity-theft cases result from stolen paper statements, invoices or checkbooks.

To learn how switching to e-billing could reduce your company's environmental impact, check out Pay It Green's Financial Footprint Calculator. For a more advanced assessment of your environmental impact, download the Green Calculator for Businesses spreadsheet.

Here's how e-billing works: You select an e-billing vendor. (Consult the NACHA buyer's guide for names.) The vendor sets up a payment-processing system that accommodates your customers' billing preferences, whether they choose to receive bills via email, online or through fax or U.S. mail. While setup costs vary, a typical small business will pay a few thousand dollars to get started.

Once you've got your electronic-billing system established, you'll need to advertise the switch to your customers through billing inserts or e-mail notifications. You'll also have to convince them that electronic billing is easy, secure and better for the environment. Your vendor may be able to help. Billtrust, for example, provides customers with a new billing design and messages to promote electronic billing. For additional guidance, check out the Pay It Green Toolkit, which includes a few sample press releases and customer notification letters.

After the initial setup is completed, your vendor will charge you a per-document fee for ongoing service. Neither Billtrust nor CheckFree, another electronic billing service, will disclose the cost of transactions. Billtrust does claim, however, that customers save as much as 35% by using Billtrust to do their paper billing and more than 75% by using the company's e-billing services.

Paperless billing can allow you to take your company's environmental commitment one step further. For example, New York utility company Con Edison publicizes its donation of $1 to a local nonprofit tree-planting fund for every customer who switches to electronic billing. Remember, too, to spread word of your vendor's efforts on your behalf. Billtrust, for example, plants trees in its clients' names as they reach certain levels of e-billing adoption.

As your e-billing efforts move forward, take advantage of the opportunity to highlight your company's other environmental initiatives, such as a paperless office, a green retrofit or simply reducing your company's carbon footprint .

And remember: It takes people a while to adopt new habits. Expect customers to go paperless over the course of months or years, not weeks.

Kelsey Abbott is a freelance writer in Freeport, Maine, where she lives with her husband and their dog.

More from Personal Finance

U.S. Banks Urged to Make Small Loans In Competition With Payday Lenders

U.S. Banks Urged to Make Small Loans In Competition With Payday Lenders

How to Void a Check

How to Void a Check

Rent the Runway co-founder Chats with Cramer on Equal Pay and a Good Pair Jeans

Rent the Runway co-founder Chats with Cramer on Equal Pay and a Good Pair Jeans

Best Real Estate Markets for Homeowners in the U.S.

Best Real Estate Markets for Homeowners in the U.S.

How to Be a Winner Like Legendary Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch

How to Be a Winner Like Legendary Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch